For five walkers making the 1,200-mile trek from the headwaters of the Mississippi River to its mouth in New Orleans, the issue never has been clearer or more pressing.
“The Mississippi River is the second-most polluted river in the United States and we must do something about that,” said Sharon Day, an Anishinaabe elder leading the Mississippi River Water Walkers that began March 1 at Lake Itasca State Park in Minnesota with a traditional Ojibwe water ceremony.
The four women and one man, three of whom are Native Americans, are carrying a ceremonial copper pail of water from the Mississippi headwaters to the Gulf of Mexico.
Today, they will walk along U.S. 67, beginning in Princeton and continuing south. They take turns walking individually while the others ride in a support van.
Day and several others in the group were part of the Mother Earth Water Walk of 2011, when walkers brought pails of water from the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and Canada to Bad River, Wis.
At the end of the 2011 walk, someone asked Day, 61, of Minneapolis, what was next.
“She told them the Mississippi River,” said Barb Baker-LaRush, 45, of New Post, Wis. “All I said was, ‘I’m there.’”
Baker-LaRush said that of all the water on the Earth, only 3 percent can be consumed by people. The rest can’t, she said.
Marya Bradley, 47, of Philadelphia, who is making the trek, said it is time people “decide if we care about the next generation or the other creatures that live on Earth with us. We need to change fundamentally the way we respond to life and recognize what we need to do to take care of it. What we do to the water, we do to ourselves.”
Ira Johnson, 32, came from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada for the trek.
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Johnson said he was part of the walk in 2011, and plans to see this one through. “It’s important that we raise awareness of what is happening to our water resources,” he said.
Beth Brent, 48, flew from Harbor Ferry, W.Va., for the walk. She said she met First Nations Ojibwe Grandmother Josephine Mandamin, a founder of the Water Walk, who told her to walk the Mississippi River.
“I thought the feeling to walk it would go away, but it got stronger,” Brent said.
Baker-LaRush said they are the core group that will make the entire trip, but often other people in different cities join the walk for a while as a show of support.
In addition to raising awareness of the pollution problem, Day said, “We want the walk to be a prayer. Every step we take, we will be praying for and thinking of the water.”
They expect to arrive at the mouth of the Mississippi in late April, Day said.